The first few are in! I hope for many more!
University of Glasgow
Monstrum viator: The Travelling Monsters of Herzog Ernst
This paper will examine relationships between monsters, clothing, and travel in the late medieval German epic-romance, Herzog Ernst. In this gripping tale of conquest and crusade, Duke Ernst and his knights, on their way to fight the ‘heathen’ in the Holy Land, experience sequential encounters with different monstrous groups as they travel across the exotic East. The Crane Men, One-Stars, Flat-Hooves, Pygmies and Giants all have their separate agendas that the Duke and his knights either thwart or facilitate. That is, while the hostile monsters are annihilated, others are friendly and even in need of military defence, which the Duke and his men honourably provide. Most amazingly, the knights learn to speak ‘Arimaspi’, and a number of the monsters forsake their homelands to follow the crusaders to the Holy Land. While for some of them, this is the last stop, a select few of the monsters accompany the knights back to Bavaria and to the imperial court to begin a new life in the Holy Roman Empire.
Besides violating convention by moving the monsters from East to West, the tale places an unusual emphasis on their highly sophisticated cities, clothing, and material furnishings, thus contradicting contemporary notions of monstrous appearances, behaviour and dwellings. Through application of sartorial analysis as first developed by E. Jane Burns, ‘reading through clothes’ will help to explain how oriental finery and monstrosity together blur geographical boundaries in ways that ultimately help to shape Western courtly identity. In this discussion, pictorial imagery will play a crucial role. While only a relatively small amount of Herzog Ernst illustrations have survived, an examination of just a few images from one of the more extensive pictorial cycles reveals ways in which artists contributed to the conceptual merging of East and West, thereby subverting the East-West dichotomy apparently operational in medieval courtly romance.
Department of English
University of South Carolina Aiken
Grendels, Glámrs, and Skrælings: A New World Ogre in its Infancy
Grændlendinga saga and Eirikssaga both describe the Scandinavian exploration of the New World in the early eleventh century. As with so many other examples of medieval travel literature, the Scandinavian explorers in these related texts come across examples of the supernatural and the monstrous in the course of their travels. Two of the most obvious are a ghostly visitation in chapter 7 of Grændlendinga saga and a uniped that appears in chapter 12 of Eirikssaga. However, both of these intersections with the monstrous are handled by the respective authors in a very matter-of-fact fashion, as if such events and creatures are relatively commonplace. What is intriguing, however, is how the authors of these sagas portray the Skrælings—the Native American tribes whom the Scandinavians meet along the North American coast. While the Skrælings are clearly “human” to both characters and saga authors alike, the authors portray them in a way that resonates with established traditions of ogres and trolls in Germanic literature. In essence, the authors of these sagas (and especially the author of Eirikssaga) create images of the North Americans that place them within an ogrish continuum and emphasizes the Skrælings’ “monstrous” qualities at the expense of their humanity. This is not to say, however, that the Skrælings are to be taken as ogres or trolls in the texts. Rather, we should read the portrayal of the Skrælings as the first step in an ongoing process of textual conversion in which the unfamiliar outsider becomes, via time and transmission, the inhuman monstrous other that will invariably threaten the fabric of society.
Wayne State University
“On what maner he myght dyscrivyn hit aryght”: Tundale, Monsters and the Mappaemundi
Much criticism has been leveled at The Vision of Tundale’s apparent lack of narrative structure and continuity, particularly in its movement between the Passus and the Gaudia. The Passus detail increasingly horrid descriptions of the damned, culminating with Lucifer; the Gaudia begin with those undergoing mild punishments and then ascend to increasingly divine landscapes and visions. It had been recognized that this movement in Tundale is often seen as chaotic and unorganized by modern readers because it does not conform to the format of Dante, the culmination and most familiar of all purgatory visions. This paper posits that the movement of Tundale adheres to a different logic: that of the mappaemundi and various pseudo-travel writings such as the Wonders of the East and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle.
The Vision of Tundale was particularly popular with its contemporary audience and much has been discussed of how the majority of the text’s surviving copies are found bound in manuscripts containing numerous popular romances, indicating that the text fulfilled an interest in grisly detail and adventure. Much less though has been discussed of Tundale’s relationship to travel narrative, monstrous description, and the logic of the mappaemundi. Taking Tundale’s encounter with Satan and his determination to “dyscrivyn hit aright” as a main site of investigation, this paper explores the affinities between Dante’s most elaborate predecessor and certain writings detailing the encounters one has when traveling East; contending that Tundale is not two separate visions and movements crammed together with mixed results, but rather a journey in close relationship with such travel texts.
Tel Aviv University
It is widely accepted that medieval ethnography was re-invented during the 12th century with the works of Gerald of Wales, as argued by Robert Bartlett. In my paper I would rather like to suggest that the description of foreign people was a longue-dureé process which started in Ancient Greece and progressed all through the middle ages.
By suggesting some criteria of recognizing an ethnographic description, I would like to show that during the Early Middle Ages writers like Ammianus Marcelinus and Jordanes, and Adam of Bremen and Helmold of Bossau (in the 11th century) described invading peoples from the East and the Christianization of the Scandinavians and the Slavs. Some of these peoples were regarded as monsters, but still one can realize that although these descriptions were fragmentary, they represent an ongoing interest in the nature and habits of foreign people.
From the 12th century we have ethnographic monographs (written by Gerald of Wales, Giovanni Carpini and Wiliam of Rubruck). These works represent a rather new tendency towards eye-witness accounts and a greater attention to the author’s own experience during his observation of foreign people. Even though these descriptions discuss the “monstrous races”, they reveal some doubts regarding their very existence, as well as a tendency towards more realistic descriptions of other people.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Living Large and Leaving the Liminal: The Giant Saint and the Incarnation in the South English Legendary’s Life of Saint Christopher
The Life of St. Christopher, as recorded in the earliest manuscript of The South English Legendary (MS Laud 108), interprets the excessive body of the giant as a metaphor for the paradox of the incarnation. Further, the SEL version of St. Christopher uses the embodied giant in a way consistent with Elizabeth Grosz’s theory of the body as a site where binaries break down. In the case of St. Christopher, the saint’s giant body challenges the divisions between human and God and between human and monster. Though the liminal position of the monster between binaries has been firmly established, this reading of St. Christopher’s legend describes a process by which that liminal body can travel across boundaries and be incorporated into the realm of either the divine or the human or both. Christopher’s initial contact with Christianity is categorized by references to Christ’s creation of Christopher’s giant body and to Christ’s physical sacrifice. When Christopher meets the Chri
st-child, the text focuses on the miraculous paradox of a child embodying limitless divine power and Christopher is left to question the humanity of the Christ-child, even as his own humanity has been questioned. In each instance the text connects Christopher’s excessive body with God’s excessive power, linking the two by metaphor and suggesting something of the monstrous in Christ. In Christopher’s subsequent trials the text juxtaposes Christopher’s Christologically appropriate responses to violence and overt sexuality with the expected narrative of violence associated with the giant’s body. The giant’s Christian behavior forces a re-interpretation of the narrative his body represents even as Christ’s monstrosity must be interpreted as evidence of divine power and grace. My analysis of St. Christopher suggests how a thirteenth century audience might have understood divine power by contemplating the paradox of the Christian giant.
Queering Mandeville’s Female Monsters: Transformative, Transgender, Transsexual
Through his fictional travels, the eponymous Sir John Mandeville encounters not only priests, kings, and warriors from other cultures and religions, but also a wide selection of the monsters sampled in other variations of the medieval travel narrative. He lists the usual suspects, from the Cyclopes to the Sciapodes, monsters who are, by assumption, figured as male. However, Mandeville also points out four monsters specifically identified as female. While the male human(oid) monsters he mentions are usually monsters of lack, excess, or animal hybridity, the female monsters are defined most clearly by the ways in which they exceed or transgress the capacities and limits of the female body. The dragon woman, the dead woman who gives birth to a monstrous head, the Amazons, and the poison virgins all queer the notion of what it means not only to be a woman, but also to possess a woman’s body. Therefore, in this paper, I will examine the ways in which these women’s monstrous and transformative bodies might also be considered transgendered and transsexual. While identifying such bodies as monstrous circumscribes human behaviors and desires, it also exhibits the possibilities implicit in the incipient female form and the potential of the human body to not only function as an object of desire and prohibition, but also to become something new through the apparatus of monstrous and spectacular transformation.
Dr. Dana M. Oswald
Assistant Professor of English
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Karma de Gruy
“The Angels Men Complain Of”: Monstrous Masculinity in La Conte du Graal
While traveling through a forest one day, Chretien de Troyes’ young hero, Perceval, encounters a group of knights for the first time, and is nearly overwhelmed by the sight of their shining, armored bodies. He recounts the experience to his horrified mother, who exclaims, “Tu as veu, si com je croi, / Les enges don la gent se plaignent, / Qui ocient quan qu’il ataignent” [You have seen, I believe, the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon].
In examining Chretien de Troyes’ elusive and previously unexplored reference to “the angels men complain of,” this paper will argue that the romance diverges from the dominant chivalric narrative to imagine a masculinity susceptible to the ravages of affect. Critics such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Leo Braudy have suggested that the chivalric body in medieval romance is built from the outside in; in this articulation, the armor really does make the man. When Perceval sets out on his journey towards knighthood, it is this construction which drives him. Spurred on by a vision of the shining and beautiful knights he at first takes to be angels and filled with a burning desire to possess the armor and other accoutrements of knighthood, Perceval conceives of knightly identity as entirely composed of surfaces. He pursues a construction of chivalric masculinity in which the knight’s body is seamless, static, immune to affect, and impenetrable. But this ideal melding of body and armor, of identity and accoutrement, removes the knight from the category of what is recognizably human. The courtly violence of death-dealing knights renders them as beautiful, cold, and deadly as “the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon.” In figuring the angel-knight as physically and morally monstrous, La Conte du Graal suggests a new masculine subject position emerging from the paradoxes of twelfth-century chivalric romance, and creates a heroic trajectory which dismantles the traditional hero/monster binary.